A Miltonic allegorical ode in blank verse that adopts the L'Allegro formula. Graves's ode unfolds as a series of verse characters of citizen-gossips, old maids, literary critics, and politicians, all of which malcontents are to be condemned: "Thy partial pencil dipt in gall, | Gives to the fairest deeds the jaundice tint, | And vilifies the wisest plans. | Infernal hag, hated by Gods and men! | Hence to thy native realms of night, | And hide for ever thy detested head!" As a member of the William Warburton circle, Graves was presumably familiar enough with Calumny.
William Meyler: "MR. GRAVES was Rector of Claverton, a beautiful and romantic village in the vicinity of Bath. He was the academic friend of Shenstone, to whom the greater part of his so much admired Epistles were addressed. 'The Spiritual Quixote,' "Columella,' 'Euphrosyne,' (a collection of excellent Poems) and many other elegant original and translated productions, issued from his easy and correct pen. He died universally beloved and lamented, in his 90th year, on the 23d of November 1804, after having enjoyed a long and uninterrupted state of health and activity; the effects, as he conceived, of early temperance and frequent abstinence" in Meyler, Poetical Amusement on the Journey of Life (1806) 198n.
J. W. Croker: "Richard Graves, who was for some years tutor in the house of Johnson's friend, Mr. Fitzherberet, and who contributed to the Batheaston Vase. He was rector of Claverton, near Bath, where he died in 1804" Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Croker (1831) 3:212n.
Clarence Tracy: "As a poet Graves belonged to the old-fashioned school of Pope and Gay and had little sympathy with the new poets like Collins and Gray who affected elaborate and often obscure Miltonic diction. Good diction was the great thing with Graves. Clarity of thought and simplicity of language were his ideals" Portrait of Richard Graves (1987) 132.
Infernal Imp! of Falsehood born,
By Envy, Pride, or Worthlessness begot;
In cells obscure 'midst beldames old,
Foster'd by Malice and Impertinence!
Hence to the shades of Erebus,
And hide 'midst hideous fiends thy haggard head,
Nor with thy pestilential breath
Infect the balmy air: Beauty and Youth
And worth transcendent are thy prey,
Relentless hag! nor Virtue from thy rage
Nor Innocence itself is safe.
All day with prying looks and listening ear
Thou prowlest for intelligence.
Or, from some secret nook, watchest the doors
Of inoffensive citizens;
Forming conjectures rash on all that pass:
Thence issuing forth with fell intent,
Vouchest thy vain surmises for firm truths,
Certain "as proofs of holy writ."
By night, when mortals sleep, secure of harm,
With rancorous heart and busy hand
Thou sow'st unseen the seeds of disaffection;
Whence friends meet friends with freezing looks,
Nor guess the cause that alienates their hearts.
Disguis'd like antiquated maid,
Oft' have I seen thee with malignant leer
Dart from the card-table base hints,
And spread thy venom in ambiguous phrase,
Whilst artless Youth and Beauty smiles
With unsuspecting freedom on the swain
That leads her down the mazy dance,
Nor dreams of mischief from thy whispering tongue.
But chief amongst the critic herd,
Sitting in judgment on th' applauded work
Of rising genius thou presid'st:
And if the force of truth acquit the Bard,
Thou'lt wound the morals of the Man,
With fancy'd errors soothing thus thy spleen.—
How oft' amidst the harmless tribe
Of politicians, met in wise debate
On public measures o'er their tea,
Thy discontented countenance is ken'd!
Venting with factious zeal thy lies
On virtuous Ministers and patriot Kings.
Thy partial pencil dipt in gall,
Gives to the fairest deeds the jaundice tint,
And vilifies the wisest plans.
Infernal hag, hated by Gods and men!
Hence to thy native realms of night,
And hide for ever thy detested head!